A Finnish composer born in 1952 in Finland.
After her apprenticeship of the violin, piano and organ, Kaija Saariaho studied composition at the Sibelius Academy of Helsinki (Finland) with Paavo Heinien (1976-1981). After discovering the spectral music of Tristan Murail and Gérard Grisey in Darmstadt, she continued her training at the Hochschule für Musik of Freiburg im Breisgau (Germany) with Brian Ferneyhough and Klaus Huber, as well as at Ircam in Paris (1982).
Relying on her use of the computer, Saariaho imposes a very personal style with notably some original work on what the composer calls ‘the timbral axis’(1) that leads her to distinguish ethereal sounds and noised sounds, as much in electronic as in acoustic textures. She composes for all formations, from solo instrument to orchestra and opera, with a certain predilection for the strings, in particular the cello, and for the voice. Her works include Laconisme de l’aile for flute (1982); Lichtbogen for ensemble, first performed by the ensemble 2e2m, conducted by Georges-Élie Octors (1986); Nymphea for string quartet and electronics, first performed by the Kronos Quartet (1987); Près for cello and electronics, first performed by Anssi Karttunen (1992); L’Amour de loin, opera premiered by the Symphony Orchestra of the SWR, Baden-Baden conducted by Kent Nagano (2000); Adriana Mater, opera premiered by the Orchestra and Chorus of Paris National Opera conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen (2005); Circle Map for large orchestra and live electronics, first performed by the Netherlands Concertgebouw Orchestra conducted by Susanna Mälkki (2012); Maan varjot for organ and orchestra, first performed by Olivier Latry and the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Kent Nagano (2013); Light and Matter for piano, violin and cello, first performed by Jennifer Koh, Nicholas Canellakis and Benjamin Hochman (2014); Innocence, opera (2018-2020).
Kaija Saariaho has received many awards from around the world, notably the Kranichsteiner Musikpreis (1986), Nordic Council Music Prize (2000), Musical America Composer (2008), Léonie Sonnings Musikpris (2011) and Grand Prix Lycéen des Compositeurs (2013).
She taught composition at the University of San Diego in California (1988-1989) and at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki (1997-1998 and 2005-2009).
(1) SAARIAHO Kaija. “Timbre et harmonie”. In: BARRIÈRE Jean-Baptiste (dir.). Le timbre: métaphore pour la composition. Paris: Ircam; Paris: C. Bourgois, 1991, p. 412-453.